Getting plastic foam out of our waterways

I am happy to share news that in a unanimous vote of my colleagues, the Montgomery County Council passed my bill that bans certain expanded polystyrene or plastic foam products. The focus of the bill is on stopping the harm caused by these food service products when they become litter. Watch a short video on the passage of the bill below.

Passage of the Montgomery County Polystyrene Ban Bill

This bill is needed because plastic foam breaks into pieces and ends up in our rivers, streams, and watersheds. Numerous studies have found that polystyrene foam is a significant source of litter in our waterways, and one study of an Anacostia River tributary found that 22% of the trash collected in a trash trap was polystyrene foam.

With passage of this bill, Montgomery County joins a growing list of progressive communities to ban polystyrene foam, including Washington D.C., San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and New York City. My bill tracks closely with DC’s recently passed ban, but it goes further by banning the sale of consumer foam products in grocery and convenience stores.

Finally, the bill requires that in 2017, all food service products used in the county must be recyclable or compostable. I hope this will strengthen our county’s recycling program.

Specifically, my bill does the following three things:

  1. Prohibits the use of foam food service products by food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2016.
  2. Prohibits the sale of foam loose fill packaging (packing peanuts) and bulk foam foodservice products (bulk foam cups and plates) beginning on January 1, 2016.
  3. Requires the use of compostable or recyclable food service products by the County, County Contractors, and food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2017.

What makes polystyrene foam a particularly pernicious form of litter is that the petroleum-based plastic breaks down into small pieces, but it does not completely dissolve. This makes it incredibly difficult and costly to clean up. It also ends up in the food supply, as fish and oysters eat the bits of foam. The National Research Council has recently “upheld the listing of styrene as ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.'”

Fortunately, there are competitively priced alternatives to polystyrene foam that are much better for the environment. By joining with Washington, DC, we will strengthen the regional market for alternative products.

I want to specifically thank Councilmembers George Leventhal and Marc Elrich as well as County Executive Isiah Leggett for being early supporters of this important legislation. I would also like to thank the coalition of environmental groups, particularly Trash Free Maryland and the Anacostia Watershed society, for their effective activism, and the many residents who spoke out in favor of the bill. We couldn’t have done it without your help.